TAMPA, Fla. – Mitt Romney came under withering criticism Wednesday over his depiction of President Barack Obama’s auto industry bailout, with Vice President Joe Biden accusing him of perpetuating an “outrageous lie” and newspapers assailing the Republican’s advertising campaign on the subject. Chrysler and General Motors also have protested the ads, as the 2009 bailout was pushed to the forefront of the White House campaign in a key battleground just days before Tuesday’s election.
“They’re trying to scare the living devil out of a group of people who have been hurt so badly over the last previous four years before we came to office,” Biden told voters in Florida, labeling the Romney commercials “one of the most flagrantly dishonest ads I can ever remember in my political career.”
Countering Biden, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, one of 32 House Republicans to vote for the auto bailout, said in a statement released by Romney’s campaign: “GM and Chrysler are expanding their production overseas. These are facts that voters deserve to know as they listen to the claims President Obama and his campaign are making.”
Romney’s campaign insists the ads are accurate.
The TV ad says: “Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.” And the radio ad says: “Under President Obama, GM cut 15,000 American jobs, but they are planning to double the number of cars built in China, which means 15,000 more jobs for China. And now comes word that Chrysler is starting to build cars in, you guessed it, China. What happened to the promises made to autoworkers in Toledo and throughout Ohio?”
The claims are highly misleading. In fact, Chrysler is adding 1,100 jobs to its plant in Toledo. It’s also adding production facilities in China as demand for cars there grows. Because of trade rules, it’s easier for companies to build cars for the Chinese market in China. It’s also more efficient. Japanese automakers, for example, have plants in the U.S. to meet American demand.
For much of the race, Romney had been carefully avoiding raising the auto issue; aides say he was reluctant to give Obama’s campaign a bigger opportunity to remind voters about the bailouts. But advisers say that thinking has changed as Romney has looked for traction in Ohio in the race’s final days.
Last week, Romney himself suggested on the campaign trail that U.S. auto giants were moving jobs to China at the expense of Ohio, citing a Bloomberg News report that said Chrysler would move jobs to China.
“I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state – Jeep, now owned by the Italians – is thinking of moving all production to China,” Romney said Oct. 25 in Defiance, Ohio. He hasn’t repeated that claim since then.
His spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, said Wednesday that Romney was relying on an inaccurate report from Bloomberg News, and that Bloomberg had updated its story to indicate that while Chrysler did plan to manufacture all types of its cars in China, it was expanding into the Asian country, not moving its operations there.
Bloomberg, in a statement to the Associated Press, said neither the original story nor the update was inaccurate. “We stand by our reporting,” spokeswoman Meghan Womack said. The story also referred to Jeep models, Womack said, not all types of its cars.
The ads reflect Romney’s late-game effort to win a state that’s critical to his effort to win the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. It’s difficult to see how he wins the White House without winning in Ohio, a state that offers 18 electoral votes and that every Republican president has won.
Over the past week, auto bailout politics have flared red hot in the state. Obama hammered Romney during the final debate last week over his opposition to the auto bailout, then renewed that criticism against Romney with greater emphasis in Ohio. During that period, polls showed Romney slipping in Ohio among white, working-class voters.
Both GM and Chrysler have taken issue with the ads in recent days, emphasizing that they are not sending jobs abroad that would otherwise employ Americans. “Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China,” Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne wrote in an email to employees on Tuesday. And newspapers in Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo and Youngstown all ran stories or editorials highlighting the automakers’ objections or mentioning problems with the Republican’s ads.